With all the talk around Brendan Rodgers’ appointment at Liverpool, it may actually be that Andre Villas-Boas moving to Tottenham is the most interesting managerial development of the summer. Villas-Boas has had a turbulent twelve months, having arrived at Chelsea as a treble winner with Porto and considered one of the hottest managerial prospects in Europe and leaving nine months later with his reputation tarnished. However, reported interest from Inter Milan and a number of other European clubs will testify that the Portuguese manager still has his admirers and Tottenham seem to have found a top class replacement for Harry Redknapp.
Redknapp’s departure may have seemed surprising at the time, but in hindsight it makes a great deal of sense. Whether the England speculation affected his team or not, there was a feeling towards the end of last season that Redknapp had taken the team as far as he could go. Redknapp was often quick to dismiss the importance of tactics and preferred to give individuals a great deal of freedom, but that method came increasingly at the expense of team shape. It should be remembered that Redknapp took the club from bottom of the table to fourth in the league in four seasons, but it may be that at the highest level he was a little too naïve.
Villas-Boas arrives with an established style of play that brought him great success at Porto and ultimately led to his dismissal at Chelsea. His 4-3-3 system is relatively direct in that his team s move the ball forward quickly via midfield playmakers and wide forwards, and defensively press high up the pitch. Villas-Boas found to his cost at Chelsea how introducing a system to an incompatible group of players is doomed to fail, but Tottenham’s squad seems more suited to his philosophy. Spurs were accustomed to playing long passes towards the wingers under Redknapp, and the likes of Scott Parker, Sandro and Gylfi Sigurdsson should have the energy in midfield to effectively press the opposition. In new signing Jan Vertonghen and Younes Caboul they also have the central defenders with sufficient pace to play a high line, a feature that caused his Chelsea team all sorts of problems. Villas-Boas’ challenges will be replacing the departing Luka Modric with a playmaker of genuine quality and finding an attacking combination that will suit his front-three. At present Jermain Defoe is the club’s sole striking option, and he is completely unsuited to a lone striker role. Either side of him, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon are genuine wingers, and there is a fear that should they stay too wide the centre-forward may be isolated (although both have developed the ability to drift infield with mixed success). Tottenham will certainly bring in another striker before the transfer deadline, probably Emmanuel Adebayor, but they may need further options on the flanks to make the 4-3-3 system work.
Tottenham certainly seem better equipped to cope with Villas-Boas’ style than an ageing Chelsea side were, but if he cannot fill the holes in his team he may have to consolidate his position before the next transfer window. Should he succeed in implementing his style, a quick look at his Porto record should testify to what could be achieved. It would certainly have been interesting to see if chairman Daniel Levy would have let Redknapp go had Tottenham qualified for the Champions League, but if Villas-Boas establishes the club as a domestic and European force, Chelsea’s victory over Bayern Munich could have been a blessing in disguise.